The new Oxford-educated vice-chancellor of the debt-ridden University of Zambia this week faced a strike by academics who said they were prepared to boycott lectures for four or five months.
Robert Serpell appealed to the lecturers and researchers union, Unzalaru, not to strike. He said: "This administration intends to fully honour all of the university's outstanding financial obligations, including the backlog of unpaid entitlements of academic staff. The Unzalaru executive is not advising its membership well by dissuading them from carrying out their normal duties."
Apparently pinning his hopes on the government's 2003 budget statement in which it set aside money to honour commitments to lecturers, Professor Serpell announced ahead of the budget that the academic year would begin as usual and students have been signing up.
But the union went ahead with the strike. Trywell Kalusopa, leader of the union, said: "We have seen this trickery before. We are tired of promises."
There were fears that student anger at the disruption would quickly explode. "Having paid fees they can ill afford, they will become very restless and by the second week they will be rioting," Habatwa Mweene, head of physics, predicted.
Mr Kalusopa said the amounts eventually announced in the budget were too small and might never arrive. Pay levels have dropped to among the lowest in southern African universities, according to the union, contributing to a brain drain, with 300 staff leaving between 1999 and 2001.
Staff are claiming a back-payment of allowances, that retired staff should be paid their pensions and that pension contributions on behalf of serving staff should be honoured.
The university's overall debt is more than Kwacha 60 billion (£9 million).